Sarkozy slips in French Republican presidential race

PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy has lost ground against his main conservative rival in the race for France’s Republican party presidential nomination, two polls showed on Wednesday, hurt by legal and political setbacks.

Nicolas Sarkozy, former head of the Les Republicains political party, attends Les Republicains LR political party summer camp in La Baule, France, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-2012, is pitching himself as a man of action who will push for a new European Union treaty, be tough on immigration, and defend France against militant Islam.

While his message resonates with voters tempted by the buoyant far-right National Front, he risks alienating mainstream center-right voters.

In one poll by Kantar Sofres-Onepoint, support for Sarkozy in the Nov 20 primary first round dipped 1 point to 33 percent, while backing for party frontrunner Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, climbed 5 points to 39 percent.

A second poll showed Juppe, a moderate who styles himself as an elder statesman, steady at 35 percent in the first round while Sarkozy shed 2 points at 31 percent.

Both polls showed Juppe winning the primary contest’s second round, due on Nov. 27, by at least a 10 point margin.

Whoever wins the center-right party ticket is odds-on favorite to win the presidential election.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is on course for a place in a head-to-head second round but will almost certainly fail to win, polls show. President Francois Hollande, who has not yet declared he will run, is the country’s most unpopular leader and his ruling Socialist Party is riven by internal divisions.

Sarkozy failed to build on the momentum generated by his high-profile campaign launch in late August, according to the IFOP poll, the first since mid-June to show a fall in support for the often abrasive politician in the primary’s second round.

Sarkozy has been stung by allegations made by one of his former senior advisers that in 2007 he courted the support of then National Front’s chief Jean-Marie Le Pen in his bid to win the presidency.

The call by a prosecutor for Sarkozy to face trial over campaign financing irregularities, as well as an endorsement for Juppe from influential centrist Francois Bayrou have also hampered his campaign.

Reporting by Sophie Louet and Richard Lough; Editing by Dominic Evans